Music therapy with newborns


Since November 2020, Kirsty Ormston has been developing the Music Therapy Service on the Neonatal Unit at University College Hospital, London. Music therapy has helped with interaction, soothing, and bonding, and has provided many families with the confidence to sing with their infant. Music therapy also provides an opportunity for creating many treasured memories.

Music therapy has been especially beneficial for those whose infant has had a particularly challenging start to life (for example due to brain injury), requiring ventilation or heavy sedation. For these families in particular, music therapy provides time to concentrate on being together. This may be one of the few things that parents are able to do regarding the care of their infant which feels positive and ‘normal’.

In one family, the parents had received regular updates on the likely challenges their baby would face growing up, and they felt that their time was focused on what was ‘wrong’. When music therapy began, baby lay skin to skin on Mum’s chest. Initially, Mum anxiously watched the monitors for signs that baby was okay. A light, slow guitar accompaniment was provided to hold Mum and baby together, followed by long, slow notes hummed by the therapist.

Gradually, Mum relaxed and baby’s respiratory rate also settled and became rhythmic. For the rest of the session, Mum was able to appreciate the feeling of her baby resting against her and enjoy being together. After the session, Mum said she was happy that her baby had been relaxed, but had actually found the session had really benefitted her own mental health too.

Kirsty has joined the neonatal team at a time when the NHS is under greater pressure than at any time in its history…  The families, babies and staff of the unit have benefitted from Kirsty’s expertise and positivity at such a challenging time. As well as supporting maternal and infant attachment through music therapy, Kirsty has also been invaluable in supporting families with babies on a palliative pathway. Within a few weeks of her working with us, it has become difficult to imagine the unit without her.
Dr Giles Kendall, consultant in neonatal medicine, UCLH

Kirsty is very grateful for the support that Jessie’s Fund has provided, enabling the service to be possible.